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DfT contractors’ info to be on one database

Contractors working for any Department for Transport agency will have data held on a centralised database to give civil servants a better overview of each firm’s performance.

An Office of Government Commerce procurement capability review expressed concern about suppliers winning major contracts with one part of the DfT, including rail projects, highways construction and maintenance, along with work for Transport for London and Network Rail, while in dispute with another DfT agency.

In its report, the OGC said: “This information will be initially collated manually on a regular basis but arrangements will be ongoing to create a system that will provide the information electronically and which will be updated daily.”

The idea is part of a raft of recommendations made by the OGC in its review for the Department for Transport.

Contractors will also be encouraged to attend annual Trade Days to keep them informed of future plans and to help deliver better value for money on major projects.

It also suggests that regular feedback briefings are held with contractors.

The move is part of a department-wide commercial and procurement strategy, covering third party spend, process and suppliers, whose principles are set to be adopted by all DfT agencies, including the Highways Agency.

A spokeswoman for the Highways Agency said: “We are ahead on a lot of the recommendations the report makes because they have come from the Nichols Review.

“We have already appointed commercial and major projects directors at senior civil service level and are in the process of recruiting a procurement director.”

Currently, Trevor Schofield is acting procurement director at the agency, where he is working alongside network services director Ginny Clarke.

The review also urged the Highways Agency to work more closely with the department when it comes to sustainability but acknowledged that Early Contractor Involvement is having a positive effect when it comes to innovation in major projects.

Network Rail was praised for its good contract management in the review and that it had earned a strong reputation as a client.

But the review stated that contract managers at the network operator need to gain in high-level commercial skills.

Scottish Targets missed

Cost estimates for major public sector construction projects have been too optimistic, according to the first systematic review of major public projects by spending watchdog Audit Scotland published this week.

The body found that only two fifths of projects that it analysed were completed within the budget set when they were first approved. Initial project completion dates were similarly optimistic, with just one third finished within the original timescale.

But the research also revealed that performance against cost and time estimates improved after contracts were awarded – as by this point plans were more certain and risks were clearer.

Robert Black, the auditor general for Scotland, said: “It is good news that projects mostly come in close to the costs and deadlines that are set when awarded.

But there needs to be improvement in the information that is available at the earlier stage when important choices are being made about which projects should be committed.”

Analysis: Radical action on procurement needed

By Gary Wright

The procurement capability review underlines the Government’s commitment to transforming procurement and the value it delivers for the taxpayer.

The Department for Transport overview recognises the progress that has been made in both the highways and rail sectors. In relation to the Highways Agency, the procurement processes are seen by suppliers as ‘fair but onerous’ and the Capability Assessment Toolkit and Early Contractor Involvement well regarded.

But, in overall terms, the review indicates a huge amount of work to fully modernise procurement practices. This is exacerbated by the acute shortage of the right calibre people and the difficulty attracting them to public sector procurement careers.

Training will take too long to address the problem, so departments should be considering more radical ways of attracting the necessary skills and resources to achieve better procurement performance.

Gary Wright is a former supply chain manager with the Highways Agency and director of procurement consultancy Rowsell Wright

To download a full copy of the OGC review and improvement plan click on the resource box on the right hand side of the page